The Internet: good news/bad news for technical people with disabilities

by Laurel McKee Ranger

Software test leader Guido Corona works out of IBM Corp's Accessibility Center in Austin, TX. Basically, his job is helping IBM design products to help people with disabilities navigate the Internet.

Corona has been blind for fifteen years. His particular interest at work is in products for people with visual impairments. He manages a group of testers, prepares test plans, manages test cycles and beta tests, and creates competitive analysis documents for IBM's Home Page Reader product. The technology he's helping to develop will also be used for cell phone access to the Net.

Eyesight, postulates Corona, "is a wide bandwidth form of data acquisition. You take it all in at one shot. The absorption is very rapid."

By comparison, hearing with understanding occupies a narrow bandwidth. "You can't hear and understand two conversations at one time. To be useful, the information has to be serialized. Basically what we're doing at IBM's Accessibility Center is transforming data from a relatively wide bandwidth to a narrow bandwidth."

Corona was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a college student, and became completely blind in 1985. But technology came to his aid. He was working for IBM as an alpha tester on a very early speaking PC program, and had just received a prototype to work with. "It came in the nick of time," Corona recalls.

Born in Italy, Corona emigrated to Canada with his family in 1976. He started college as a music major, but changed to CS when he realized that his eyesight was failing.

After getting his bachelors in CS from York University (Toronto, ON, Canada) in 1982, Corona started working as a compiler specialist at IBM. Later he went into marketing, management and technical support for special needs. He landed his current position partly because of his early work in compilers.

Corona puts the Internet to good use at work. "I continually access our internal site because we have many of our tools there. But it also allows me to open myself to the world."

Traditionally, says Corona, the blind have been starved for information. Material in Braille is costly, bulky and very slow in coming. "But on the Internet, the access is instant. The Internet has opened the floodgates."

IBM provides all the tools Corona needs to do his job. "I have a laptop, a Jaws screen reader, IBM's Home Page Reader, a Parrot VoiceMate and an OCR screener. I have my own office so chatter doesn't distract me, and I take taxis to work, which the company reimburses me for. IBM has been very good."

Read this article in its entirety at the Diversity/Careers web site.